"We believe that when economic development benefits all groups in society, then that will by itself contribute to stability and social cohesion"
By Thin Lei Win
BANGKOK, March 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thailand needs to rein in rapid depletion of its natural resources, create more and better jobs, and provide support to millions of the poorest if it is to achieve green growth that brings prosperity to all, the World Bank said on Monday.
"We believe that when economic development benefits all groups in society, then that will by itself contribute to stability and social cohesion," Ulrich Zachau, the bank's director for Southeast Asia, told journalists at the launch of a report on getting Thailand's economic growth back on track.
Between 1986 and 2014, high growth reduced poverty in Thailand from 67 percent to 10.5 percent of its population, the report said.
But the country has been troubled by unrest in the past decade. In 2014, a coup restored an uneasy peace.
In that year, 7.1 million Thais, mostly outside Bangkok, were still living in poverty, with an additional 6.7 million at risk of falling back into it, the report said.
Agricultural prices and job creation - two of the country's growth engines in previous decades - have declined.
Meanwhile, one-third of all 15-year-olds nationwide are functionally illiterate, the report said. The number rises to 47 percent in villages, underlining the inequality between the capital city and the rest of Thailand.
The Southeast Asian nation of 66 million people is also experiencing a slowdown in job creation caused by a weak global economy and loss of its competitive edge.
A decade ago, Thailand ranked above other Southeast Asian and upper-middle-income countries on all dimensions measured in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index. Today, other nations have caught up, the World Bank report said.
Climate change and environmental degradation, meanwhile, are making Thailand more vulnerable to natural disasters, the World Bank report warned.
The rate of depletion of Thailand's natural resources - including forests, mangroves and coral reefs - has sped up in the last decade, the report showed.
At 4.4 percent of gross national income, it is similar to other countries in the East Asia and Pacific region, but is almost double the rate in 2002 and three times the rate in the 1980s.
Climate change is expected to bring more frequent coastal flooding to low-lying Thailand, with the biggest threat to Bangkok and central areas, the report said.
Deforestation, caused mainly by illegal logging and smuggling, and poor planning for public infrastructure exacerbate flood risks, the report added.
Severe floods in Bangkok in 2011 resulted in losses estimated at $46.5 billion. About 19,000 homes were destroyed and 2.5 million people displaced, World Bank figures showed.
Saline intrusion from sea-level rise could also cause Thai coastal farms to be less productive, the report said.
According to the Thai meteorological department, the country's annual mean temperature rose by 1 degree Celsius from 1981 to 2007, and precipitation has suffered an overall decrease over the last 50 years, raising the risk of drought.
Embarking on more environmentally conscious growth requires better land zoning and management, alongside the promotion of energy efficiency and clean energy, the World Bank report said.
But despite pledges to reduce its climate-changing emissions, the majority of which come from the energy sector, Thailand is looking to build 7,390 megawatts of coal-fired power plants over the next 20 years, the report noted.
(Reporting By Thin Lei Win, Editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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